By JOHN RUHLAND
The escalation of the violence in the Middle East demands a closer look at the Israeli occupation of Palestine. The little-known film “HANNA K.,” directed by Costa-Gavras and produced by Franco Solinas, gives a good background. The plot appears to be straightforward: an Israeli lawyer defends a Palestinian man accused of being a terrorist.
As in life, there is a great deal of subtle complexity in the film. The protagonist, Hanna Kaufmann, an Israeli, is a young woman assigned her first case as a court-appointed defense attorney. The Palestinian she is asked to defend, Selim, is a handsome man whose family estate was confiscated and turned into a tourist attraction outside a Zionist housing community in the occupied territory.
Hanna is pregnant, and the father of Hanna’s child is a condescending, male chauvinistic, and self-righteous prosecuting attorney in her court, opposing her in her first case.
He sarcastically implies German anti-Semitism by proposing Hanna go visit Aryan specialists who could perform an abortion for her, while at the same time he drives a German BMW. He is openly racist against Arabs.
After the trial attracts national and international attention, the prosecution becomes preoccupied with stopping the publicity and legal precedent the trial affords all Palestinians driven from their land. The representatives of the prosecution tell Hanna that, through connections, they can get Selim South African citizenship, because his skin is “fairly light.”
Hanna responds by saying, “And his eyes are almost blue.” This is a another deeply ironic referral to the mythical blue-eyed Aryan race.
A case where Palestinians can have their confiscated land returned puts into question the very legitimacy of Israel, something the Israeli government is anxious to suppress. Selim is the only male in the film that appears to have much respect for Hanna, first as a woman and as a lawyer, and later as a mother.
“HANNA K.” does not offer easy solutions to the Arab-Israeli conflict. It does provide exposure for some issues that are not often aired in the debate. The film allows us as viewers to experience the frustration and the resentment Palestinians feel, as well as the sense of angst and even paranoia that occupying Israelis feel.
The recent dramatic increase in hostilities by Israel with the extremist Sharon in power, supported by the American government, all under the cover of an “anti-terrorist” drive, is causing a change in the region. It was recently reported that all men under 50 years of age in Ramala were being arrested, and that about 20 men had been executed without a trial.
By turning up the level of oppression of the Palestinians, Sharon is purposely creating a dangerous enemy. He has suggested publicly several times now that Arafat should be killed. It appears that he is doing this in order to gauge support and opposition to such an assassination, and to make the world less surprised when this occurs.
We are approaching another Final Solution, instituted not by Germans, but by Israelis. Another step in this direction occurred when the Israeli military began putting classifying tattoos on Palestinian men until it was forced to stop by an outcry within Israel and internationally.
In the film, a professor tells Hanna: “For over 2000 years we have been separated, deported, massacred. You know all that, but it is not a bad idea to recall it. Your family also did share in the holocaust. And now that we have a country, an identity, we MUST defend it.”
Hanna replies: “By refusing the same thing to others, professor?” The professor responds: “Yes, if it’s necessary, yes.” One can feel the pressure of nationalism coming to bear upon Hanna.
In another scene, when Hanna learns that Selim is aware that she is following and spying on him, Hanna tells him: “Suspicion is awful. I feel guilty.” Selim sensitively replies: “It does good sometimes.”
In “HANNA K.,” Costa-Gavras captures the essence of what people on both sides of the issue feel.
Legacy of colonialism
In the powerful 1992 “CUP FINAL,” directed by Eran Riklis, an Israeli soldier who loves the Italian soccer team is captured by the PLO during the soccer World Cup. The PLO leader shares this love for the Italian soccer team, allowing them briefly a powerful experience of their shared humanity.
There are few opportunities where an Israeli Jew and a Palestinian have enough time together to get to know one another. Just as in “Hanna K.,” when circumstances are such that two people of different backgrounds come together and listen to one another, miraculous things can happen.
A major factor in relations in the Middle East is the legacy of colonialism. Early on it was Roman colonialism, much later it was British, and now it is US using tiny Israel as a highly leveraged foothold in order to help control access to the wealth of the region.
Other films which give us a background of the history from an Israeli perspective include “EXODUS,” which depicts British imperialist oppression of Israel. Israel today uses the same techniques of oppression against the Palestinians.
Today, the greatest culprit in the conflict is the U.S. government, a neo-colonial force on every continent. Today, we are the leading colonial empire, the role the British formerly held. We arm the Israelis not for humanitarian reasons, but out of self-interest, in order to use the Israeli-Arab conflict to maintain our control within the region.
“THE HOUSE ON CHELOUCHE STREET,” a 1973 film directed by Moshe Mizrahi, depicts the life of an Israeli family during British occupation in 1946. “GOING HOME” is a 1995 film directed by Omar al-Quattan, of a British officer who witnessed the end of British colonial rule in Israel.
The devastation of war
Films on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict demonstrating the devastation of war include the 1991 “TIME FOR CHERRIES,” directed by Haim Bouzaglo, which has been nicknamed the Israeli “CATCH-22,” and demonstrates the futility of armed conflict.
In the 1996 “CHRONICLE OF A DISAPPEARANCE,” directed by Elia Suleiman, a Palestinian filmmaker returns to his homeland after 12 years in New York. Incidents are collected to create a video diary which may be funny or they may be painful to someone from the region. In this manner, the film describes the effect of political instability upon the people of Palestine.
The 1989 “ECHOES OF CONFLICT” is made up of three short films by different directors on human effects of the conflict. The 1991 “DEADLY CURRENTS,” directed by Simcha Jacobovici is a superb documentary, which gives insights from many points-of-view into the Israeli-Arab conflict. It has been invited to be shown in the West Bank by both Palestinian refugees as well as Israeli settlers.
“WE ARE GODS CHILDREN” by Hanna Musleh is a 1993 film depicting Palestinians of various political factions. The 1996 “SHAHEED: THE MAKING OF A SUICIDE BOMBER” by Dan Setton, is a documentary investigating how people are driven to perform such a desperate act.
An Israeli version of suicide bombers is shown in the 1968 “SINAI COMMANDOS,” an action film about a suicide squad defending Israeli interests during the six-day war, directed by Raphael Nussbaum. The 2001 “A BOMB IN THE BASEMENT,” by Michael Karpini, which had its U.S. premiere in the Seattle Jewish Film Festival in April, gives som insight into the frightening militaristic thinking that spawned Israel’s atomic bomb.
In “COCKFIGHT,” the 2000 film directed by Sigalit Lipshitz, an Israeli transporting chickens is stopped at a Palestinian checkpoint. Young people explore history of a once cosmopolitan city in “ONCE UPON A TIME: BEIRUT,” a 1994 film directed by Jocelyne Saab. One gets some sense of the effect of the conflict on the greater region.
Jews and Arabs living together
Films showing Israelis and Arabs able to coexist include the 1984 “BEYOND THE WALLS,” directed by Uri Barbash, in which the leader of Israeli prisoners and the leader of Arab prisoners join together to plan a joint mutiny against increasingly barbaric conditions in the Israeli prison they are sentenced to.
In a microcosm of what we see in the greater society, prison officials kill a Jewish inmate and blame it on the Arabs. Friction keeps the convicts under control, fighting amongst themselves, instead of rebelling against their inhuman living conditions and their real oppressors.
In the 1988 “FICTITIOUS MARRIAGE,” directed by Haim Bouzaglo, an Israeli is mistaken for a Gaza Arab, as he takes an unexpected detour, which leads to mid-life crisis.
In the 1998 comedy “CIRCUS PALESTINA,” directed by Eyal Halfon, a Russian lion-tamer, an Israeli soldier, and an Arab boy team up to find an escaped lion amidst the political turmoil of the region.
In the 1995 “THE FLYING CAMEL,” an Arab and a Jew learn to become friends in their comedic journey to pursue their uncommon interests. “COMPROMISE,” the 1996 film by Ahat Even, shows us Palestinian and Israeli actors working together for a production of Romeo and Juliet.
“CROSSFIRE” is a 1989 film by Gideon Ganani of an Arab and a Jew falling in love. “FORBIDDEN MARRIAGES IN THE HOLY LAND” is a 1995 film on eight mixed marriages, by director Michel Khleifi. In “SECOND WATCH” from 1995 by Sudi Ben-Arie, an Israeli and a Jordanian soldier pass boring hours together.
Part of being an occupied country is the suppression of history and culture. It is difficult to find films on the region from a Palestinian point-of-view. I have learned of but have not yet seen a documentary of the Arab-Israeli conflict directed by Koji Wakamatsu, focusing on the freedom struggle of the Palestinian people, entitled “RED ARMY PLO DECLARATION OF GLOBAL WAR.”
I know of five films on life for Palestinians under Israeli occupation. In the very beautiful 1987 film “WEDDING IN GALILEE,” in Hebrew and Arabic, directed by Palestinian director Michel Khleifi, we are able to follow a young Palestinian woman and man who get married despite tensions with Israeli occupying forces.
Khleifi also directed another film that deals with the relationship between Palestinians under the watchful eye of the Israelis. It is the 1990 “CANTICLE OF THE STONES,” about a Palestinian man and woman separated under Israeli rule, who fall in love again when they are reunited years later.
The 1997 “THE MILKY WAY,” directed by Ali Nassar, is a lyrical examination of the humor and the cruelty of life for Palestinians under Israeli colonial rule.
The 1997 film “CHECKPOINT” directed by Wright & Saliba depicts the life of Palestinians after the 1993 Oslo “Peace” Accord. “OCCUPIED PALESTINE” from 1987 by David Koff depicts what life was like in the mid 1980s.
In the 1970 Israeli film “SIEGE,” Israeli working people are used as cannon fodder to kill Arab working people in order to promote Zionist ambitions.
In the 1983 “HAMSIN” directed by Daniel Wachsmann, Jewish worker is pitted against Arab. We know this is consciously promoted by rich, unseen enemies of both, who stir up hatred. It is common for a colonial power to “divide and conquer.”
“United We Stand, Divided We Fall” was a powerful slogan from the 1776 American Revolution. The only long-term solution for the region will not please the U.S. ruling class, which promotes the conflict in order to allow multinational petroleum and mining industries to essentially steal the raw materials from the people of the region. Nevertheless, the most successful solution is a democratic secular Palestine, in which Jews and Arabs can live together as equals.
By using boycotts, divestiture, and other techniques used in the South African freedom struggle, we can work to build a worldwide movement that will eventually be able to not only end Israeli apartheid, but create a world free of class differences.